I hate pumpkin beer.
As in, I really, really, really hate pumpkin beer. I hate the very idea of pumpkin beer. I hate seeing it on tap at our otherwise outstanding local craft breweries. I hate that the beer artisans I so deeply admire waste their valuable time by making this swill, year after year after ever-loving year.
And if you like pumpkin beer, I hate you, too. (Not really. But I’m trying to nail this old-man-yelling-at-clouds thing, so … )
Seasonal beers are great. A light honey ale in the spring? Sign me up. A malty Oktoberfest served, for some reason, in September? Sure, I’m game. The heavy, dark, spicy creations that come out every holiday season? Those are my favorites.
But pumpkin beer season? That’s a season made for people who, I believe, genuinely hate beer. And puppies. Probably.
First of all, pumpkin beer is a sham. It doesn’t actually taste like pumpkins.
Also? It’s gross.
And it’s a fad that must die. Now.
I’m doing my part with this beer column, in which I asked a bunch of our local craft- and homebrewers what they really think about pumpkin beer. And to ensure their answers were as candid as possible — so you, pumpkin beer lovers of the world, learn the truth about exactly what they think when you walk into their establishments and ask for one of these abominations — I allowed them all to speak anonymously.
They pulled no punches, with their opinions or language:
“Fuck pumpkin everything, let me just say that first,” Brewer A told me. “Pumpkin is NOT a flavor, it is literally devoid of any substantial impact on any food. This all started with pumpkin pie, which is great, but doesn’t belong in everything and does not taste like pumpkin. It tastes like pumpkin spice. Hands down, the funniest thing about this trend that I have ever seen was a car place offering ‘Pumpkin Spice Oil Changes.’”
Wait, what? I don’t even know how to process that, so … moving on:
“It is 100 percent an annual curse that we will not be participating in. For everyone who asks about a pumpkin beer, I have to explain that we make a shit ton of a pumpkin beer and have about six weeks to sell it. After Halloween, not a soul will drink a pumpkin beer so it is completely wasted and will get dumped down the drain. So I repeat: Fuck pumpkin everything, but especially, fuck pumpkin beers.”
Moving on to a couple brewers who hope pumpkin beer is a mere fad that will soon go the way of the political moderate:
“Making pumpkin beer is like getting a flu shot — you don’t like it, but every year you do it. It’s a necessary evil,” Brewer B told me. “I can’t say that I despise them because making beer is always enjoyable for me, even if I don’t care for the style. If people enjoy them, I’ll keep making them. But I sure hope the fad fades so we can get back to beers that taste like beer.”
Brewer C said s/he and literally every other brewer in Pittsburgh hates making pumpkin beer:
“I mean, it’s just smoke and mirrors. Consumers are out there thinking they’re getting pumpkin beers, but you can’t taste the pumpkin. It’s a fad. But as long as people keeping buying pet rocks, we’ll keep making it. Hopefully in a couple years, when people realize, ‘Oh, those things were dumb,’ we can start making beers that have actual taste to them again.”
It’s not just brewery owners who loathe pumpkin beer. I spoke with an accomplished Pittsburgh homebrewer and avid local craft beer supporter who said pumpkin beer is “terrible” and “for craft beer drinkers who don’t actually like craft beer.”
“It is an overly popular sugar water that comes out in August and has no actual flavor,” the homebrewer said. “It is the dregs of the beer community. I hate it and I’m a [person] who generally likes fruit tastes in beer. But pumpkin beer is horrible.”
Asked if s/he brews pumpkin beer, the home brewer answered emphatically.
“No. And I never will. Unless I’ve been kidnapped.”
Now, in pumpkin beer’s defense, I did talk to the owner of a Pittsburgh bar that specializes in Western Pa. craft beer who took a decidedly ‘meh’ approach to the style (and, yes, that’s the best defense I can mount for pumpkin beer).
“I try so much bad or mediocre craft beer on a regular basis that I no longer have any aversion to any particular styles, pumpkin or pumpkin-spiced styles included. As is the case with all beer styles, there are good examples of those beers and there are bad examples of those beers. I’m far more offended by a poorly executed lager than I am by a well-executed beer with pumpkin or traditional pumpkin spices.”
Also, full disclosure: The previous comment comes from a person who two years ago served with me and about 20 others as a judge at Wigle Whiskey’s annual homebrew competition. The winner that year was a pumpkin stout.
But here’s the catch: It won because it was a pumpkin beer in name only. It did NOT actually taste like pumpkin or pumpkin spices. It was a just a really good stout. For what it’s worth …
“It’s certainly not something I reach for,” said Brewer D — who, it must be noted, does make an annual pumpkin beer. “I think I sit somewhere between ‘Fuck pumpkin everything’ and ‘You know, maybe we can find our place in this and have it be something we can actually feel OK about.’”
Brewer D recalled being inundated with requests for a pumpkin beer several years ago.
“And I was always, ‘no, no, no, no.’”
But s/he relented. Because you pumpkin beer lovers can be so damn stubborn.
So Brewer D and a co-brewer started working on a recipe.
“We had 10 different possible (spice) combinations for this beer and we’re trying to taste our way through each one and find one we liked, and when we got to the end we discovered we didn’t like any of them,” Brewer D recalled. “So it became, which one do we hate the least?”
Not exactly a ringing endorsement.
Yet, some of you out there really dig this stuff. So brewers continue to make it, even if they won’t drink it themselves.
“It’s all around us,” Brewer D said, as if pumpkin beer were some type of pandemic (Note: It is.). “I think the pumpkin spice latte is at the center of the bullseye. If this is a plague that has been set upon our society, I will put Starbucks squarely in the center of that bullseye.”
I’m reminded of a recent trip to a local craft brewery. A man entered the tasting room, clearly unfamiliar with the world of craft beers. The bartender approached.
“What can I get you?” the bartender asked.
“Something light,” the man said. “The lightest beer you have.”
“I can get you a glass of water,” the bartender said.
“How about something similar to Miller Lite,” the man said.
“That’s a glass of water,” the bartender replied.
Not really, but then again, a pumpkin beer is not actually a pumpkin beer. It’s some evil combination of cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice.
Which is, you know … gross.
Brewer D then added a final thought, which I believe perfectly sums up this whole pumpkin beer fad:
“I remember talking to a brewer who’s in another city now, and he said pumpkin beer is the Oktoberfest of the U.S., where people are excited about the Oktoberfest release, it’s an indigenous style … and his statement years ago was that pumpkin beer is the American version of that.
“And I just thought, ‘Wow. That’s the saddest commentary ever on the American craft beer scene.’”
Truth. Happy Halloween, yinz.